© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

UMSL archeologists discover continental Europe's earliest-known written record

This is the back of the 2x3 inch tablet that was discovered in Iklaina, Greece.
(Christian Mundigler)
This is the back of the 2x3 inch tablet that was discovered in Iklaina, Greece.

Archeologists from the University of Missouri-St. Louis have discovered continental Europe’s earliest known written record.

The clay tablet fragment dates back to between 1490 and 1390 BC – at least 100 years before any other known writings from mainland Europe.

UMSL archeologist Michael Cosmopoulos led the excavation that unearthed the tablet at Iklaina in southwestern Greece.

Cosmopoulos says the broken tablet only survived because it was thrown away in an ancient garbage pit. The trash was burned, helping to preserve the clay fragment.

The tablet, explains Cosmopoulos, is written in an ancient system called Linear B. Each character is made up of small lines and represents a syllable.

Cosmopoulos says the piece of tablet has a word related to manufacturing on one side, and a list of male names with numbers on the other. He says it’s most likely part of a state government accounting record, possibly a tax record.

"So basically the Greeks of the period invented writing because of the bureaucratic needs of their states,” Cosmopoulos said. "The fact that we have state records at such an early date and at a new site, suggests that bureaucracy and literacy developed earlier and were more widespread than what we had thought until now."

Cosmopoulos says the tablet adds to evidence that the site was probably one of the nine state capitals of King Nestor, one of the most famous kings to fight in the Trojan War.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.